Monthly Archives: October 2005

I want a voice activated iPod

I’ve been waiting for portable music player with voice navigation since before the display-less iPod shuffle came out. What’s taking so damn long?

The latest full sized iPods have got to have about as much CPU power and RAM as the Pentium PC that was able to do a decent job running freetext dictation software 8 or 9 years ago. I’m sure they are faster than the circa 1991 AV macs that had a workable voice driven interface for the menus and dialog boxes.

What’s more, the vocabulary of words and phrases is known since it’s limited to the artists, songs and album titles on your music player plus a handfull of commands, which would allow a lot of preprocessing to be performed on the PC you use to load the music on the player.

Voice recognition has been slow to take off on PCs because the alternatives (keyboards & mice) are generally faster and more accurate. I don’t think you can make the same argument for portable media players.

The iPod has a great UI, but it can take a long time to find a specific song or artist amongst all the options, and I only have a puny 10GB model. Furthermore, it can be easy to overshoot a given menu selection on the first try. What’s more, the voice recognition doesn’t have to be perfect. I’d be happy if speaking a song, album or artist name gave me ~5 possibilities to choose from, just as long as one of them was the item I was looking for. Done right, this would make it much easier to build on the go playlists (something I never do) and just generally use something other than shuffle mode.

So, what’s the deal? Why can’t I have what I want?

Mindcamp (not bandcamp)

I stumbled across “Seattle Mindcamp” while looking at “Ted Leung’s post on Apple’s new Aperture product”: and I’m intrigued. I’ve been thinking lately that I need to break out of the shell I’m in and enter into dialog with people who share my big-picture, forward looking perspective, but are coming at it from a different angle and Mindcamp looks like a great venue for that sort of interaction.

I’m not quite sure what to make of it though. “Blog entires”: don’t have an obvious author associated with them, giving it a bit of an “in crowd” feel.

I guess I’ll just have to apply and see what happens.

Jakob Nielsen Misses a Key Feature of Weblogs (hint, it’s RSS)

Jakob Nielsen has been writing about web usability on his site for what must be close to a decade now. In recent year’s its become fashionable to take digs at him, even though his advice still makes sense to me.

I’m not trying to jump on the bandwagon here, but I do have to take issue with one of the items in his recent post on “weblog usability mistakes”: Specifically: #7. “Irregular Publishing Frequency” where he talks about the importance of using a regular publication schedule so regular readers know when to check back.

He seems to be missing is the important and growing role of RSS in weblog publishing and consumption. I suppose this isn’t suprising, since he doesn’t appear to have an RSS feed on his site (at least not one that is easily discoverable). Still, RSS + RSS aggregators address the problem rather neatly. People don’t have to get in the habit of returning to your site to check for new content. They just have to get in the habit of adding feeds for weblogs of interest to their aggregator. When you publish a new item, an excerpt, or even the full text, shows up in their aggregator.

Granted, there are plenty of issues with usability around RSS subscriptions, and only some of them can be addressed exclusively by the publisher since the aggregator makers have to be involved. Still, I think it would have been better to talk about ease of discovery of RSS feeds for #7 in his article, and then put his money where his mouth is and implement a stellar example on Alertbox.

Other people have their own take:
* “Deane on Gadgetopia”:
* “”:
* “Philipp Lenssen”:
* “WeBreakStuff”:

The Values and Value of an Ivy League Education.

A recent issue of the New Yorker has an essay by Malcolm Gladwell about the values and value of a Ivy League education.

On the values side, he discusses how the admissions system at Harvard and other Ivy’s evolved over the 20th century, first as a way to keep the number of Jews in the student body down, into a current form that has as much to do with physical appearance, an outgoing personality and athletic ability as it does on intellectual or academic merit.

On the value side he talks about a new study that suggests that an Ivy League education, and the “connections” that come with them, may be worth less than many have previously thought. It looked at people who were accepted to Ivy League schools, and then compared those who attended the Ivy League schools to those that matriculated at a less prestigious institution. They found that among Ivy caliber students, attending Ivy League schools gave no measureable benefit with respect to earnings. The only students who benefitted were those from lower socio-economic classes.

He also explores other issues related to the branding of an Ivy League education.

I really liked this quote, but I suggest reading the whole article:

bq. The extraordinary emphasis the Ivy League places on admissions policies, though, makes it seem more like a modelling agency than like the Marine Corps

The New Yorker: The Critics: A Critic At Large

More Incompetence

Slate asks just what the hell Karen Hughes though she was doing in the middle east late last month.

Karen Hughes, Stay Home! – What on earth is she doing in the Middle East? By Fred Kaplan
Let’s say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans’ image of Islam. It’s doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented “Good morning.” Yet this would be the clueless counterpart to Karen Hughes, with her lame attempts at bonding (“I’m a working mom”) and her tin-eared assurances that President Bush is a man of God (you can almost hear the Muslim women thinking, “Yes, we know, that’s why he’s relaunched the Crusades”).

It is stunning just how arrogant and out of their depth this administartion is. How else to explain yet another colossal misfire?

iPod: Now with video

Apple’s announcement of a “new iPod with Video features”: is causing serious meltdown on some of the sites reporting it, including “Engadget’s live report”: and “Apple’s own site”:, both of which are taking forever to load right now.

This isn’t a big suprise, of course. 18 months ago, I was “skeptical, if not dismissive, about the idea”:, but six months later, I was “convinced it was inevitable”:

Apple is, of course, ready to go with video content for the new advice, delivered through iTunes6 and an update to the iTunes Music store. Initial offerings include music videos and recently broadcasted ABC TV shows like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.”

I’m not sure I’m convinced about how compelling either of them will be. I think music videos are the right kind of content. They are short and they are the sort of things people would want to show to friends as a sort of conversation starter, but they are also something that has traditionally been free, and I’m skeptical about people laying down $2 for a conversation starter.

I think the price on the TV shows ($2) is also a bit high, but probably reasonable for something that could cost the networks viewers and ad revenue on highly rated shows, and not so much that a devoted viewer wouldn’t pay for it. The downside is that I think the number of people who want to keep up with their favorite 30 or 60 minute shows on a small screen doesn’t stretch too far beyond mass transit users in major metropolitan areas.

I think the TV shows would be a more attractive buy if they were higher quality, but my guess is that they are targeted at the QVGA screen of the new iPods. This is VHS quality, which is more than enough for such a small screen, and probably looks ok via the new iPod’s video out to a TV set, but these days, when people pay for stuff, they are used to DVD quality video and audio.

The new video capable iPods are clearly just an upgrade to the existing iPod line. The video capabilities come under the same name (just “iPod”) and price points as the older iPods with smaller hard disk capacities that they are replacing, but I think they could end up being revolutionary, but not as platforms for the sort of content Apple is launching with.

I think the new iPods will create a market and an audience for short form video content that people can share with one another at the water cooler. Now that the media landscape is so fractured, a portable video device can give people a way to establish common ground again. The new iPod’s aren’t quite there though. They don’t have a speaker that allows multiple viewers to listen to the associated audio, and they don’t let people swap clips without involving their computers.